I am pleased to announce that my newest book, Soul of My Voice, is now available at Lulu.com. Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. This text was written as a workbook/journal to accompany my first book, Soul of Voice published in 2016. However, Soul of My Voice is just as effective as a stand alone book, chuck full of essays, poems, quotes, photos, writing prompts and mandalas. Happy reading (and writing, and coloring, etc.)!!
No mistake about it, the events of the last few weeks have been heart wrenching. The outpouring of shared grief and solidarity between people and nations has brought us even closer together as a species. Terror does that—it draws us into community rather than distances us from our neighbors. Fear and uncertainty can also divide us as we search for ways in which we can keep ourselves safe while at the same time serve our fellow man (women and children included).
The incident that most struck the heart of my being was when the French people leaving the disrupted friendly soccer game between France and Germany suddenly burst into song. France’s national anthem, The Marseillaise, has long had a history as a revolutionary song, an anthem to freedom, a patriotic call to mobilize all the citizens and an exhortation to fight against tyranny and foreign invasion. Written in 1729, this anthem has survived every war from the French Revolution through both World Wars and beyond. And as of last week, this new incarnation, signifies the resilience and determination of the French people to defy terror—to not become weakened from the attacks, but rather to gain strength of purpose and will.
As I watched the spectators leave the stadium holding hands and singing as expressively as they could, I too joined them while sitting at home viewing their resolve from the comfort of my living room. I share their grief, but I also share their energy and commitment to not let fear take away their sense of joy and safety. I pray for peace, but I also hold hands and sing out for liberte, egalite and fraternite with all those who wish to stop terror dead in its tracks.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
For many of us hearing of someone else’s achievements or good news can really throw us off. We acknowledge that we are happy for this or that person, but at the same time we feel upset or gypped by life. Our self worth takes a nose dive and our joy along with it. And rather than celebrate the person for who they are or what they have received, instead we belittle them or their experience so as to feel better about ourselves. Their achievements point up our own disappointments and force us to become more focused on who we are not and what we don’t have than on our own worth. In the words of the Canadian Catholic philosopher Jean Vanier, “Envy comes from people’s ignorance of, or lack of belief in, their own gifts.”
When we are envious of another person, it is easy for us to project our feelings of self-disgust onto him or her, giving us the impression that we dislike them when in truth it is our own lack or failings that we despise. If we are not careful, that dislike can turn to hate rather quickly. And that hatred is not actually about the other person but about our own shadow selves.
“Envy is an insult to oneself.” Yevtushenko
We tend to think that all those things we do not want others to think of us, nor do we ourselves want to think about us, are hidden away. But they are not. Envy holds up a bold face mirror to our shadow selves, forcing us to look deeply at our junk while at the same time placing that junk onto the other person so as to make its reflection more palatable. The irony is no matter how hard one works on their flaws, faults and misdoings, more will surface. It is like a well that keeps burbling up long after the waters have been purified or drained. In other words, we will always have a shadow. The question is not how to get rid of it but rather how to deal with it.
“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.” Harold Coffin
Envy has a lot to do with several things, but the most obvious is the sense of self-worth. When we remind ourselves of who we truly are and all the good we have done and continue to do in this world, we do not so easily get swept away by thoughts of envy. For example, if I have been on a diet and have only lost two pounds in two weeks and my friend boasts of having lost ten pounds in one week, instead of discrediting their success or belittling my own, I can remind myself that I still lost two pounds, I still am doing well on my diet, and that even though my success story may not be as astounding as someone else’s, it is still a story of success. The story thus becomes one of blessing rather than failure.
Envy can also be a helpful (though painful) tug to help one reassess how they may better themselves or their situation. To improve oneself or circumstance may take a change in behavior, belief or attitude. Our deepest desires are most easily snagged up in net of envy. So those feelings of envy can then help us to ask ourselves: what can I do to improve, how do my beliefs hold me back or propel me forward, and do my thoughts benefit me or hold me in despair.
When we actively run from envy and instead run toward self-growth, we become the better for it. When we give voice to our deepest desires as well as our deepest discouragements, we allow change, no matter how painful, to occur. Envy takes us away from our humanity; self–growth embraces our humanness, no matter how difficult those things which we choose to ignore may be to face.
“Beg of God the removal of envy, that God may deliver you from externals, and bestow upon you an inward occupation, which will absorb you so that your attention is not drawn away.” Rumi
As an actress, teacher, and life coach I have encountered many excellent storytellers who perform a variety of stories which can be categorized as personal biographical, family, cultural, and fantastical. On stage these stories are interpretive with the exception of improvisational theatre. Even detailing the remembered events of a dream takes the form of story and evokes storytelling. No matter the uniqueness of each story, they all come from the desire of the storyteller to convey something of import to him or herself. The story is as much about conveying facts as it is about conveying feeling. If I’m now mistaken, it is also about moving the listener to laughter, tears or at the very least to a place of transformation.
What draws a person to want to be a storyteller in the first place? Obviously, an over active imagination, but also a deep need or craving for self expression, and a desire to touch people’s hearts and minds. I have also noticed that for many people the desire to story tell comes from a yearning to give voice to their hidden hopes, dreams, and desires, as well as their demons.
Storytelling can also be a way to give voice to one’s internal negative voices whose purpose always seems to want to either make one fearful or ashamed. When a storyteller gives voice to one of these punitive thoughts, they tend to lose power, especially if one can talk back to them in a manner that demonstrates the person has more power than what Sibyl Chavis calls “the chief negativity officer.”
For example, if one of my internal voices is “no one will listen to you because you are too old,” then if I answer back something like: “What do you mean too old? How old is too old? And who are you to tell me what is too old or too young or whatever your deal is? I am just the right age for whatever I intend to master, to accomplish, to set my mind to.” And so on.
Interestingly enough, it has been my experience that those of us who are plagued by these nonstop internal voices end up becoming the best storytellers of all. It is as if the thoughts that emerge want their place to be heard, either in written or oral form. And if they are not expressed and answered to, they merely tend to rattle around and around in our heads driving us to anxiety or depression. What I am getting at is each of us has the power to be the storyteller of our own life. We merely have to be aware of how the story manifests and then how we will give it voice.
This case study originally in my upcoming book, The Soul of Voice, was edited out of the final copy. Yet, I felt that it would still make an excellent blog. Just a caveat: my fictional case studies are all based on a conglomeration of client issues that I have encountered over the years.
One of my more unusual clients was Brian (pronounce Bree-an, like the Irish name Ian). He was a landscaper by trade, but in the evening he played guitar and sang in local bars with an Irish band. Brian was strong, tall, with dark hair and beard – he reminded me of the character Paul Bunyan. Actually, he was Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox combined. He sought my help, or so he said, because he was having problems with the band– they wanted him to sing ballads, drinking songs, storytelling fare, and patriotic ditties. Brian was only interested in singing rough masculine songs about women, drink and war.
I was curious as to why he has limited himself to songs of this nature. My first thought was that he was ashamed of his voice and how it sounded while singing slowly. It is true that the voice is most vulnerable while singing a slowly and emotionally. What also crossed my mind was how personally vulnerable he may feel when asked to vocally express himself emotionally. One can easily hide their inner self behind the mask of bravado.
As in most cases I began our session together at the piano testing his voice for pitch intonation, range, and flexibility. As I took him up the keyboard, however, he grew considerably more nervous. Finally, he said, “Excuse me, but I don’t sing up there.”
“I’m surprised to hear you say that,” I said. “You have a powerfully strong voice which seems to be getting all the more powerful and stronger as we go up the scale. Do you feel as if you’re straining? Do you feel any tightness in your larynx?”
He looked at me rather confused. “No, I don’t feel any strain or tightness. I just don’t like to sing up there.”
Now I was really curious. This was not a physiological or an organic issue, but obviously one of a more psychical nature. I was hesitant to push the man, especially since this was our first session together, and we had only been vocalizing for the last five minutes. Yet, I decided to ask him one last question.
“You know why you don’t want to sing in your upper register?”
He breathed in deeply and released the air on a sigh. “I sound like a little kid or some kind of fairy.”
Oh my, I thought to myself. This is not going to be easy.
“Do you mean a fairy as in a woodland creature or as a homosexual?” I asked and steeled myself for his answer.
“What’s the difference? It’s not who I am, nor who I want to be. It takes a real man to sing the songs I sing with my band, and I am a real man,” he bellowed.
“So,” I carefully continued, “what you are telling me is that because you are a man you cannot sing ballads or in your upper register. Correct?”
“You got it,” he said.
I really didn’t know where to go from there, but I decided to pursue this situation from a different angle.
“Who’s your favorite male singer? Or which male singer do you enjoy listening to most often?” I asked.
“Sting. I listen to a lot of Sting.” He immediately retorted.
“Ah,” I answered. “He’s one of my favorites too.” I paused. “For a Scotsman,” I added.
Brian looked at me with his intense black eyes. Then the corner of his mouth curled up, and he began to smile.
“That’s right,” he laughed. “That he is!”
“Well, you know,” I pursued, “he is a tenor.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Sting has a high voice for a man. He sings much higher in the scale than where you wanted to stop.” I could see that he was having trouble digesting that curious bit of information.
“No, he doesn’t,” he argued.
“Well,” I ventured. “Let’s listen to this CD and see if you are right.” I pulled out the only CD I own of Sting when he was with the Police and it on the stereo. When Sting got to the chorus, I began to accompany the recording on the piano.
Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me
Now my poor heart aches
With every step you take.
Then when we finished listening and I turned the recording off, I played the whole tune for him and asked Brian to sing along, which he did. When we got to the chorus, I was fully prepared to have him cut out with the same excuse: that the tune was too high–but he didn’t. He sang all the way up to a high B flat in full voice with little or no effort at all. Now I was even more curious about the extent of his range and vocal ability.
Brian was silent a moment after we finished the song.
Then he quietly said, “I sang high, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you sure did,” I answered. “In fact, you sang a whole octave above where you had wanted to stop before during the vocalizing; plus, you sounded great!”
“I didn’t sound like a girl, did I?” he said more as a statement rather than a question.
“What’s this big deal for you about sounding like a girl? Are you questioning your manhood? Or do you have something in general against women or women’s voices? Or what?”
I waited for an answer, but Brian said nothing. Finally I added, “No, you did not sound anything like a girl. You sounded like a virile, passionate man with a hunger for love with a woman who means the world to you.”
Still nothing from Brian.
Then he spoke in a soft voice, “When I was a kid, my dad made fun of my voice. He called me a “powder puff” whenever he heard me laugh or sing loudly at the top of my lungs. I worked very hard, even after my voice changed, to sing down in the low part of my range, always wondering worriedly when my dad would make fun of my “girly” voice. After a while, I just altogether stopped singing.”
“Is your dad still alive?” I asked.
“No, he died about a year ago, just before I started singing in the band.”
“Yet, his voice in your head is as alive as ever. Yes?”
“Oh, yes.” Brian was a smart man and could figure out where I was going with our conversation. Therefore, I decided to take it one step further.
“Brian,” I asked. “Would you do me the favor of singing softly,”like a girl”, on some very high notes that may be in your range? I think we might discover something quite wonderful if you agree.”
He nodded and I took that as a yes. I began by telling him to sing on an “ooo” whatever notes I played, and to connect them together, as if they were a lullaby tune. Then I took him and his angelic voice to the stratosphere.
When he finished, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “That’s the voice of my boyhood that refused to be listened to and approved of.”
“Yes,” I affirmed. “But it is also the voice of your manhood, which begs to be valued and appreciated by you first of all and then perhaps by others as well.”
We returned to singing the entire tune from start to finish, but this time we took it softly, slowly and with the intention of honoring the hurt boy who still lived inside of Brian, and who desired nothing more than to be acknowledged for who he had been and continued to be. Brian sang so tenderly and with so much authentic vocal expression, that he surprised both of us. It was a delicious session in which we both liberally utilized a full box of Kleenex.
In the weeks to come, Brian began to open up emotionally while risking more and more of his upper range. He still sang his raucous Irish tunes, but now they were infused with more quality variances of timbre, dynamics (softs and louds), and emotions. The beauty of his voice coupled with the pure masculine energy of his energy and temperament resulted in a more authentic and honest connection between his voice and who he was in his entirety. Brian was definitely one the road to a life of more integrity as a singer, a performer and as a man.